It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But mostly, it was how a game between the 3rd seed in the conference and the 15th seed in the conference would go. The Chicago Bulls improved to 27-17 tonight while the Charlotte Bobcats (11-33) added to their league-leading effort at tanking. Final Score: 93 – 85
Chicago had the help of Luol Deng tonight, who returned after missing six straight games. Sophomore Jimmy Butler, who admirably filled in for Deng, wasn’t deterred by this. He played 31 minutes and dialled in a career-high 19 points to go with 6 rebounds.
Butler’s now averaging about 15 points in the last six games. Though it’s a small sample size but it’s becoming clear that the Bulls ability to find effective players in disadvantaged draft positions has served them well. In fact, former steal Taj Gibson had the Bulls highest +/- rating tonight at 21. Not to mention, it’d be nice if the emergence of Jimmy Butler could lead to a phenomenon where Deng doesn’t play 352 minutes per game.
Looking to take revenge for their New Years Eve loss, the Bulls asserted themselves early by moving the ball well on the offensive end and putting pressure on Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions on the other end.
Charlotte, on the other hand, isn’t exactly having the most positive season of all time. Since defeating the Bulls on December 31st, they’ve only manage to muster 3 wins. However, in a
season of disarray the Bobcats aren’t without a few bright spots, one of them being Jeff Adrien. The undrafted forward out of Connecticut earned a starting role in Charlotte through a sequence of unexpected events. Basically, Byron Mullens is hurt and in limited minutes Adrien has already proven to be better than Hakim Warrick and Tyrus Thomas. All jokes aside, he made the best of his minutes tonight ringing in a double-double.
Halfway through the second quarter, Luol Deng nailed his 2nd three-pointer of the game, giving the Bulls their biggest lead of the game at 14. Most people would expect the Bobcats to fold at this point, but most people don’t know that they generally wait until late in the game to have their fate sealed. Charlotte inched back but an amazing tip-pass from Jimmy Butler to Carlos Boozer led to a wide open Kirk Hinrich three… splash. The Bulls led 49-40 at the half.
Charlotte would not waver though as their three-guard rotation, which Ben Swanson from Rufus on Fire talks about in detail here, got them back into the game. Switching to a 2-3 match-up zone, they allowed Chicago a few open shots but eventually tied the game at 55 as the Bulls couldn’t capitalized.
Play of the game: Butler hits Joakim Noah in transition for an and-1 lay up. They proceed to high high forever.
Come fourth quarter, it was Nate Robinson time. Right off the bat, he nailed a three pointer, pick-pocketed Gerald Henderson and hooked Jimmy Butler up with an easy dunk. He wasn’t done there though. Wasting no time, he immediately nailed another one of his “a#QREIAJFISJFOASJDF WHY WOULD YOU – oh wait he made it, it’s okay” three-pointers. After a subsequent inbounds steal and score, all of the sudden Chicago was up by 14 again.
This, my friends, is when the Bobcats bobbed:
With just a few minutes left in the game, Carlos Boozer threw down his biggest dunk of the year on shot-blocker extraordinaire, Bismack Biyombo.
Player of the game: Tonight’s game ball has got to goto Joakim Noah, despite Nate Robinson’s 15 points and Butler’s career high. For the fourth straight game in a row, Joakim Noah has grabbed over 15 rebounds. The last Bull to do that is either broke, hospitalized or both in the present moment. Not only did Noah grab 18 rebounds tonight. He added 13 points, 7 assists and 5 blocks to make for a truly versatile stat-line. It’s ridiculous that it took this long for the big fella to make an all-star game. As most things go, there’s Joakim Noah and then there’s everyone else.
Be sure to tune in to Pippen Ain’t Easy this Wednesday when the Chicago Bulls head out to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the Bradley Center, better known as United Center North.